Beirut Adrenalin – The political left and their failed revolution. (Theatre Review)
Currently Showing at The Belvoir St Theatre
From July 27 to August 14. You can grab your tickets here.
The left wing thinker lives in perilous times, for we are forced to examine the futility of our reasoning and the power fear can provoke for those who wield it willy nilly. Traditionally champions of the working class, the intellectual left is coming to terms with the fact that the working classes have abandoned them to follow a global multitude of contemporary Fascists. This brings to mind the words of Walter Benjamin when he said “every rise of fascism bares witness to a failed revolution.” We forget that thirty years ago Afghanistan had a strong secular tradition that led to a powerful Communist party independent of Russia. Afghanistan is now portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country. The same thing happened in Bosnia. In the seventies and eighties Bosnia and Herzegovina were the most vibrant multicultural states of the Yugoslav republics complete with internationally recognised cinema schools and an almost avant guarde pop music scene. Then, in 2008, Muslim fundamentalists brutally attacked a gay rights parade in Sarajevo. We see this also in the US state of Kansas which was the bedrock of radical leftist populism in the seventies has now today become the bedrock of Christian fundamentalism. In Australia the radical and progressive socialism of Gough Whitlam in the seventies gave way first to centrist leftist positions of the Hawke government followed by a constant move toward the fascist right has resulted in a senate packed with One Nation elected representatives today. We didn’t think Australian politics could move to the right of Tony Abbott, but here we are.
The approach to ideological mystification by these two groups is radically different. The liberal democratic one contains a false universality. It’s a cry for freedom / equality that mask certain qualifications that are inherit in the way we interpret freedom and or equality (rich, male and belonging to a certain race or culture). The fascist (extreme right wing) one concerns the false identification of antagonism from an enemy, so that class struggle becomes a fight against Muslims, or “Arabs” or even an abstract concept such as “political correctness “so that the fury at the common experience of being exploited is redirected away from capitalist relations to “radical Islam” or “political correctness.” To pare this down to its clearest, when the left ideology says “freedom and equality” it really means “freedom of trade to make money and equality before the law” and when the second says “Muslims are taking all our jobs” this really means “rampant globalisation is stealing all our jobs.” The sublimated awareness of these opposing forces manifests itself in a certain cynicism in the liberal (egalitarianism will never happen, so let’s just to try to be good while we work within the only parameters available). But it is different for the working class embracing fascism. They enjoy their misdirected anger and have no desire to change it. This is why there is no use appealing to the working class right winger via intellectual explanations about how their anger is re-routed by those who cause it, toward a proxy established by the same folk. What is odd here is that in the first case the liberal is forced to blame themselves and will do so happily, while in the second the angry worker will be absolved by greater understanding and yet they reject it. We can now see how the seeds of this fascism lay in the failed revolutions of the liberals who have not conducted the leadership required to keep their revolutions in place.
And now we come to Beirut Adrenaline. Theatre Excentrique bring this complex play to the Belvoir downstairs Theatre, written by Hala Ghosn and Jalie Barcilon, interpreted by Anna Jahjah and Kris Shalvey and directed by Anna Jahjah who work together to draw us face to face with a number of ideologically left leaning characters living inside of and outside of the Lebanese civil war. It’s a satisfying play, revealing in some ways to a left leaning audience what it might be like to live as a minority within a conflict we don’t agree with – an experience we are coming face to face with in these strange days. Australia is a country that has never known a civil war, and Lebanon is a country that has virtually never known peace, and yet the similarity between the left intellectualism and our own is impossible to miss. Particularly despairing is a scene when Naveen Hanna’s character tries to set up an art exhibition only to find those with power have no time for such frivolities. When she lives out the tragic consequences of these efforts daily she is asked why she stays. “Someone has to” is her reply. And yet the tools of her rebellion – art, science, self-possession and reason – are useless nothings against the bitter truths of the war around her. It is all she can do to protect her brother played (beautifully with great comic talent) by Mansoor Noor from himself as he reaches for his own dark depths. We are reminded of the great minds left behind in countries when trouble strikes and we see ourselves reflected.
Posited against this are the returning revolutionaries Zyad (Eli Saad) and his sister Mona (Danielle Dona) with Zyad using his intellect to write articles and Mona insisting they take to the streets in protest. These are all the tools of the intellectual left, ineffective and yet bound to be repeated in a guilt inspired promise to the self to stand for egalitarianism no matter what. And yet, as we learn through the plays progression, these weapons contain a certain sort of presence that maintains a stable base forming the semblance of a country and a culture worth fighting for. We laugh with the characters of Beirut Adrenaline just as we despair for the hopelessness of their revolving situation and there is no escaping the reminder that we may be on the precipice of this sort of life ourselves.
(Much of the analysis of the left and the right have come from Slavoj Zizek’s article The Palestinian Question that you can read in all its glory right here.)